According to Our World in Data, a research organisation, dairy, meat and eggs account for 83% of greenhouse gas emissions in the average European diet with plant-based foods accounting for 17% in the same study.
The majority of emissions have resulted from land use change, farm level emissions such as manure management or use of fertilizers. Correspondingly, emissions emitted during the transportation of foods are comparatively lower meaning sourcing produce for a meat-based diet locally has minimal effects on an individual's carbon footprint.
A 2008 study on the climate impact of food miles in US households showed substituting less than one day per week's worth of calories from beef and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a plant-based alternative reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than a household buying all its food from local sources.
The answer is not simply increased veganism or vegetarianism. Extensive production of certain plant foods results in deforestation and disproportionate extraction of water. For example, production and supply of water-intensive avocados has boomed in recent years with estimates at 11 billion pounds being consumed annually worldwide. Carbon Footprint Ltd's study noted a pack of two avocados can have an emissions footprint almost twice the size of one kilo of bananas (846.36g and 480g CO2 respectively).
The Committee on Climate Change's January 2020 Report found that meeting our 2050 Net Zero target will require a reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person annually. To aid the planet and ecosystems we will need to reduce emissions-intensive production of animal and plant foods, better inform consumers about the carbon and biodiversity cost of food choices, and adopt more sustainable eating habits.
Clyde & Co is running a virtual legal hackathon between 1 July and 4 August 2020 in partnership with The Chancery Lane Project. This post is part of a series of updates posted during the hackathon on business-relevant climate initiatives and innovative solutions to some of the challenges arising from climate change.